This can be a big deal, for both you and your toddler! It’s a major milestone that means they’re growing up. But it can also be scary as a parent because you need to also factor in safety concerns.
So, when’s the right time to swap that crib for a toddler bed? And what’s the best way to do this so it’s a painless transition for parents and little ones? Here’s the scoop.
While some toddlers are able to switch into a bed around 18 months, others might not transition until they’re 30 months (2 1/2 years) old or even 3 to 3 1/2. Any time between these age ranges is considered normal.
There’s nothing wrong with your child (or you as a parent!) if you opt to wait until you feel your child is ready to smoothly make the jump to a big kid’s bed. Don’t feel like you’re behind if the other parents in your playgroups are transitioning their children earlier.
With all that being said, a child’s second birthday tends to be the point where most parents begin to consider introducing a toddler bed.
What exactly is a toddler bed?
A toddler bed usually uses the same size mattress as a crib and is low to the ground. This means you can use your crib mattress longer — though some parents do opt to get a whole new bed for their toddler, especially if there’s a younger sibling on the way.
You may prefer to go straight to a twin bed, though it should still be as low to the ground as possible and have side rails for your toddler.
There may not be a set age where you should transition your child to a bed. But there are a few telltale signs that indicate it’s time for an upgrade.
In general, if you see your child exhibiting any of the following behavior, it might be time to introduce a bed — even if they’re on the younger side of the toddler bed age range.
They can climb out of the crib
This is one of the biggest signs that it’s time to ditch your crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the transition when your child is 35 inches (89 centimeters) tall, because at that point they’re big enough to make escape attempts from the crib — even with the mattress in the lowest position. And that means your crib is now a safety hazard if they fall while escaping.
You’re in the process of potty training
A crib and potty training really don’t mix. You want your child to easily make it to the bathroom — especially if they wake up in the middle of the night with a need to go. Keep potty training on track by opting for a toddler bed so your little one can quickly go when nature calls.
Related: Potty training must-haves and tips
They no longer fit the crib
This is probably an obvious one, but if your child can easily touch both ends of the crib with their head and feet, it’s time to upgrade them to a toddler bed.
This is definitely going to be an issue if you have a mini crib as opposed to convertible models, which are longer to accommodate traditional toddler bed dimensions.
There’s another baby on the way
This is only relevant if your child is at least 18 months or older — any younger than this, and it’s not generally recommended to transition to a toddler bed.
But if you know you have another bundle of joy on the way, buying another crib might not be realistic. And it makes a perfect excuse for transitioning your child to a toddler bed.
However, be careful to make sure you aren’t giving your toddler the impression that they’re being replaced by another. Begin transitioning at least a month or two before the new baby arrives. Make it exciting that they get to be the big sister or big brother with a big kid bed.
So what can you do to make the transition from a crib to a toddler bed easier? We’re glad you asked:
Consider the bed
You want a bed that’s low to the ground to prevent injuries if you have an active sleeper. Some parents simply place their crib mattress on the floor as part of the transition.
Others buy a toddler bed, and many parents use convertible cribs that are ideal for a range of reasons. In addition to being economical, these crib-to-bed options also maintain a sense of familiarity for your toddler as usually all that’s needed to make the switch is to remove the front panel.
Encourage toddler bed nap times
If bedtime is a showdown, try to ease the transition by having your toddler take naps in their new bed. This will help them understand that this is where they sleep and minimize the struggle to get them back into the new bed at bedtime.
Keep routines consistent
If your toddler always went to bed at 9 p.m. before, you need to keep this routine going. Any kind of change from the “norm” can be unsettling for children.
So try to keep everything else in their life as consistent as possible. That includes your usual bedtime rituals like taking a bath, drinking some milk, or having story time.
Make the transition exciting
Rather than springing a new bed on your toddler, get them excited by talking about it with animation.
Tell them how fun it’s going to be to have a “grown-up bed” like their parents. Get them involved if you’re buying a toddler bed, and let them help pick out their bedding. Feeling like they have a say will make your toddler embrace the transition better.
Let your toddler pick their lovies
You want their bed to be as welcoming as possible, and that includes their favorite stuffed animals that make them feel safe. Let them decide which of their favorite plushies gets the honor of hanging in the bed with them.
Don’t be surprised if bedtime becomes a struggle for a bit. This is to be expected, as you’ll need to reinforce routines and establish that even though their new bed doesn’t have a panel, they still need to stay in bed after bedtime. Expect a 2- to 3-week transitional process.
It’s completely understandable that you might have jumped the gun on transitioning your child to a toddler bed. So, should you bring the crib back or persist? The short answer is it depends on whether your child is truly regressing or just resisting initially.
It’s expected that your little one might be hesitant or have some middle-of-the-night wake-up moments. This includes constant reappearances to check on parents, or requests for water throughout the night.
If you’re experiencing this, guide them back to bed with as little fanfare as possible, and continue on with the transition.
But if your child struggles to fall asleep, or bedtime turns into a full tantrum (and this wasn’t the case before you nixed the crib), it might just be too soon.
Reintroduce the crib. But don’t give your child the impression that they’ve failed or disappointed you somehow because they’re not sleeping in a “big kid’s” bed.
Related: What to expect from the “terrible twos”
Introducing a toddler bed means that it’s time for a whole new round of childproofing. Now your child can roam the house whenever they want — including at nighttime, when you might be none the wiser. So you’ll want to consider the following:
Some toddler beds come with guard rails, while others require buying them separately. Especially if you have an active sleeper, you’ll want to invest in them.
A soft landing
Even with guard rails, it’s a good idea to make sure that the area right next to your kiddo’s bed offers a soft landing. Plush rugs and pillows are perfect for this.
Sweep for hazards
Inspect your house so things such as pointy corners, electrical outlets, stairs, and windows won’t pose a danger. This also includes ensuring that shelving, bookcases, and drawers are properly secured so they won’t tip over if your toddler climbs them in the middle of the night.
The leap from a crib to a toddler bed is a big step — and not just for your toddler. While there’s no set age at which a child makes the transition, there are things you can do to make the process easier for both of you.
Stay patient, give plenty of encouragement, and keep your toddler involved every step of the way. And perhaps hardest of all: Embrace the idea that your baby is growing up.
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